What is so special about Martial Arts regarding children’s wellbeing?

Why mental health and wellbeing in children would be massively improved through Martial Arts participation

There has been a great deal of research around the benefits of children enjoying regular activity and how taking part in a physical activity is a huge benefit to a child in many ways. Sport and the abundance of different types of sport are well-documented amongst this research but what isn’t always fully appreciated is the high degree of positive impact Martial Arts has on children. In any other context, it would be the market leader or the champion amongst champions with its inherent impact on the wellbeing of children.

This multi-disciplined sport sits at the very top of the league and comes with a huge and diverse array of benefits to every individual. Indeed, research demonstrates it is massively beneficial to children and adults.

The past three years has highlighted the vulnerability of the human race. The impact of the pandemic, the loss of familiar routine, the breakup family units, and the continuous and unfortunate financial pressures on people has culminated in an increase in child mental health issues. It is safe to say, it has certainly tested us all and vulnerable and sensitive children have often taken the brunt of the problems we have faced in the past years through no fault of their own. They are the absolute innocence and victims of these events. We know this because we read it and hear it almost every day via the media. It is a very real problem that needs to be addressed, and in Martial Arts there are some obvious and less obvious answers. The collective of these answers are a real game-changer when it comes to children’s wellbeing.

Firstly, let’s address the naivety…

A misunderstood bad press

It is very easy to see how any form of combat sport can be seen to be detrimental as the initial take on this form of sporting activity (specifically Martial Arts and Boxing) could be deemed as promoting fighting or committing an act of violence towards another human being. However, this is a very naïve and somewhat grounded in a lack of knowledge of what Martial Arts is really about. The controlled and measured martial artist has not a thought of violence, only a measured approach to a situation.

Martial Arts is grounded in the act of self-defense rather than the process of inflicting harm to another, without reason. Indeed, in a controlled and educated environment, the arts take on a form that teaches absolute self-control. It breeds and nurtures individuals to become controlled and respectful, demonstrating how to gain an advantage and solution that will through skill, education, and competition, inflict the least damage to the other person.

The misunderstood attitude which has also become an enigma in the way it is misrepresented in the abundance of violent Hollywood films and video games is a total contradiction to what this incredible sport is really designed to do.

Martial arts has an abundance of benefits, physically and mentally. In this article we look to specifically focus these benefits relative to young people and what it can do for them.

The physical benefits of Martial Arts

  • Martial arts are known for having a massive impact on a person’s flexibility, strength, endurance, and power. These outcomes culminate in excellent levels of cardio and physical fitness
  • Further biological improvements include positive osteogenic changes in the biological structure of a martial artists body, with significant bone growth and increased bone mineral density
  • Other physical benefits include control, balance, and physical movement, with the martial artist able to comfortably control their bodies in seemingly unbalanced situations. The addition to this control, agility and movement is their ability to repeatedly apply force at speed and repeat these movements.
  • The martial artist will gain a much greater range of movement than the average human being and athlete, developing a collective muscle mass that improves body composition. This demonstrates the opportunity for a martial artist to have greater levels of appendicular muscle mass gain than could ever be gained from any other sport
  • The obvious health benefits were a decreased resting heart rate, less chance of strokes occurring and increased heart efficiency when pumping oxygen through the blood
  • Overall, the physical activity of martial arts demonstrated a higher scoring health-related quality of life than any other athlete may experience when participating in alternative sports
  • Physical changes in the brain were recognised, with participation in Martial Arts resulting in increased gray matter volume, improving cognitive processes, motor learning, planning and execution of movement.

Socioemotional and mental health benefits of Martial Arts

These are the skills that are especially important for young people. The importance of these interpersonal and intrapersonal skills is to develop relationships and a sense of identity.

  • The socioemotional skills help young people to identify an emphasis on respect for other people, through interaction with Martial Arts instructors and peers.
  • Further life skills like discipline and emotional control are typical traits a young person gains from participating in Martial Arts
  • Bravery and empathy are also common traits that are enhanced and embedded in the psyche of a Martial Artist
  • Overall, the Martial Artist is greatly improved in areas of health conscious, body confidence, eating better, avoiding risk behaviours, avoiding drugs, alcohol and much more.

The common concern amongst parents which was highlighted earlier, is the risk that participation will increase aggression and violence.

  • The research found exactly the opposite, with the respect and level of discipline required in Martial Arts representing an ability to be in total control of emotions as well as recognising situations where irrational thought has a detrimental effect on emotional outcome.
  • Increased self-esteem, self-control and care of one’s body and safety are very strong in the young participating martial artist.
  • These positive attributes lead to greater cognitive performance in learning situations such as the classroom.
  • The young Martial Artist attitude in this environment demonstrates self-regulation, a positive self-image, both manifesting into exemplary classroom conduct and achievement.
  • Harmony of mind is a very typical trait, with Martial Arts placing an emphasis on breathing through techniques and some focusing on meditation itself.
  • With the level of control, Martial artists demonstrate much lower anxiety and depression levels compared to other athletes

Overall, it was found that martial arts contributed significantly to social, emotional, and mental health through participation. Social interactions allowed for greater sociability, while new experiences create emotional growth.

Self-control and self-regulation benefits from martial arts were found to lend to the classroom behaviour of children and adolescents as well. In addition, mental health issues are lower among physically active populations, and levels of aggression and violence decrease with martial arts exposure. Martial arts are therefore seen as positively beneficial activity for children’s and adolescent’s social, emotional, mental health and wellbeing.

One very interesting final word is how the participation of Martial Arts as a young person is more likely to see that individual continue to want to participate in other physical activities throughout their lives. It sets a tone for their future mentality to explore and enjoy the physical and emotional aspects of live as adults, and developmental skills as individuals.

Much of this research is known to us at SDMA as we see those results in the children, we teach every day. However, this article hasn’t been accumulated on any opinion, it has come from the many research papers conducted around the world into the benefits of Martial Arts for children and young adults.

At SDMA, we most certainly ee those benefits daily in children and adults!